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Janet Brooke’s East End Screenprints

November 20, 2014
by the gentle author

Janet Brooke documented the changing East End streetscape through the eighties and nineties in an ambitious series of large screenprints, which are now exhibited at the Orso Major Gallery in Lower Marsh, Waterloo, until 29th November.

“I moved to the East End in the mid-seventies – at first squatting in Whitechapel, but eventually graduating to Bow. I came to take up a job teaching printmaking at East Ham Technical College and I was already a printmaker, yet unsure of my subject matter until I began recording what was on my doorstep. I started with a series of prints of local corner shops and pubs, all now gone of course. I took in anything and everything to do with the urban environment, I was attracted to the rich mixture of history, decay and the everyday familiarity of what I saw.” – Janet Brooke

“About 1985, Hessel St in Whitechapel was full of these brightly-painted Bangladeshi shops which had replaced the previous Jewish ones and were about to be replaced themselves by anonymous development.  This one actually managed to survive as a shop – in the nineties, it changed to Hessel Food Store and then with a different frontage it became Chandpur Frozen Food Store.”

Parking Restrictions Apply – “I happened across this abandoned car near London Fields in about 1996. Full of the detritus of life, I felt it reflected some of the angst, tedium and humour that are part of modern urban living.”

“In 1986, this whole street off Brick Lane was boarded up shops yet with such a wealth of history – not just the signs of the closed shops but the remains of the ones that went before.  Next to this, at number 20, there was J. W. Agass, then at number 18, J. Mandel, and a bit further along at 14, S. Levy, Drapers & Outfitters”

Joyce’s Hair Stylist, Fieldgate St, Whitechapel, 1983 – 10% Off 1st Visit

Clark’s Chemist – “In 1990, Broadway Market, was one of the most desolate streets in the area with most of the shops boarded up.  I made a whole series of prints of this street as it seemed to sum up the times.  I liked it best when it was in its period of transition, the first years of ‘Hidden Art,’ when artists and designers were given empty shops for a couple of weekends to make into a gallery.”

“In 1996, this faded sign on the wall on that rather anonymous bit of the Bow Rd near the tube station next to Wellington Way, complete with mildewed bench and can of Tennants Super summed up urban loneliness for me.  The wall is still the same with that mysterious faded sign spelling out ‘L REMEMB’  and the benches are there, though now metal ones have replaced the old wooden ones.”

Billy’s Snack Bar – “Just off Hackney Rd, the corner of Pritchards Rd and Emma Street, Billy’s Snack Bar is a colourful beacon. This was 1985 and the café remained looking exactly the same for many years. Now it’s changed its look somewhat but, amazingly, Billy’s is still there.”

“A very early print – probably 1982 – looking through the window of a café in Roman Rd. It was in one of the blocks of shops at the end nearest Grove Rd, on the north side of the road.  There are several bits of imagery that place this in its particular time  – the space invaders machine for one and the reflection of the number eight routemaster in the window.”

“An early print from 1980, the pub on the corner of Burdett Rd and Hamlets Way, close to where I lived in Ropery St, long since turned into flats. Even then, you couldn’t tell what it was called from the worn-out sign. It was actually The Crystal Tavern and inside it was full of mirrors, faded red velvet and an ancient barmaid with back-combed hair.”

“In 1990, Ridley Rd Market at packing up time when the bustle of the day had finished”

“I’ve always been fascinated by gas works, those intricate bits of Victorian industrial architecture embedded in the heart of urban living.  This is in Bethnal Green by the canal, viewed from the entrance in Marian Place, off Pritchards Rd, in 1995.  The gasometers are still there but not the house, I actually met someone once who said their uncle lived in it – the watchman I suppose. What a brilliant view!”

Images copyright © Janet Brooke

Janet Brooke’s exhibition of East End screenprints runs at Orso Major Gallery, 19 Lower Marsh, until until 29th November

You may also like to take a look at

Alan Dein’s East End Shopfronts

Eleanor Crow’s Cafes

Emily Webbers’s Shopfronts

Tony’s Hall’s Cornershops

Anthony Cairns’ Old Shops

John Claridge’s Nation of Shopkeepers

6 Responses leave one →
  1. November 20, 2014

    Lovely prints, nice to have the descriptions too, thank you

  2. November 20, 2014

    Yes, I felt the urban loneliness in London too in the Eighties… Was a special period then. A very genuine rendition as an artwork!

    Love & Peace

  3. Dot permalink
    November 20, 2014

    thank you for a most enjoyable post

  4. Pauline Taylor permalink
    November 20, 2014

    These prints are brilliant, congratulations Janet for recording these lovely colourful shop fronts so well.

  5. Linda M permalink
    November 20, 2014

    Beautiful works of art, as well as a precious archive of recent history. Thanks so much.

  6. November 21, 2014

    I grew up in Trederwen Rd in the 50’s and on a Saturday morning I would go around the market stalls and those stall holders who couldn’t leave their stalls to get a cup of tea, I would go to a café and get their tea and charge them a penny for going.
    Happy days.

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